Thomas Absolue harvests vetiver roots on a farm in Les Cayes, Haiti. (AP)

Thomas Absolue harvests vetiver roots on a farm in Les Cayes, Haiti. (AP)

Workers prepare stringy roots culled from the vetiver plant at a processing factory. (AP)

Workers prepare stringy roots culled from the vetiver plant at a processing factory. (AP)

Vetiver roots are loaded into vats to begin the process of extracting their oil, which is used in fine perfumes. (AP)

Vetiver roots are loaded into vats to begin the process of extracting their oil, which is used in fine perfumes. (AP)

Vetiver is in the same family as corn and sugarcane. It thrives in harsh conditions and does not tolerate shade. (AP)

Vetiver is in the same family as corn and sugarcane. It thrives in harsh conditions and does not tolerate shade. (AP)

Pierre Leger smells a perfume at the Frager vetiver factory in Les Cayes, Haiti. Haiti produces more than 70 tons of vetiver oil a year. (AP)

Pierre Leger smells a perfume at the Frager vetiver factory in Les Cayes, Haiti. Haiti produces more than 70 tons of vetiver oil a year. (AP)

Saving Vetiver

Posted: September 3, 2019

Goats bleat and roosters crow high in the hills of rural Haiti. Women carry buckets of water on their heads. Men tug the long, stringy roots of vetiver plants from bare brown hills.

Vetiver is a grass that grows in tall, wide clumps. Most grasses spread across the ground with roots like a mat. But vetiver’s roots grow straight down into the ground—seven to 13 feet deep! This makes the grass good for preventing erosion (soil washing away) and holding moisture in the soil.

But that’s not the only reason Haitian farmers are growing vetiver. Its roots also contain oil used for making fine perfume. Sale of that oil brings money into the impoverished country. “It’s our biggest income right now,” says soil and crop expert Hilaire James.

Vetiver isn’t a perfect fix for the problem of poverty in Haiti. It takes at least a whole year for vetiver roots to produce the best quality oil. But many vetiver farmers make less than two dollars a day. Meanwhile, prices for food and other goods rise. The farmers just can’t wait a whole year to get paid. So many harvest their plants too early. They hack them down with machetes before vetiver oil is at its best. If farmers keep doing this, maybe no one will want to buy Haiti vetiver anymore.

Early harvesting also affects the land. The nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola. Much of Haiti lacks good soil. Droughts, hurricanes, and cutting down trees have caused the drying of that nation’s landscape. You can see the difference at the border with the Dominican Republic. Its side is green, while Haiti’s side is barren.

What more could be done to help Haiti’s farmers and their land? One idea might be contour farming. Studies show that hedges of vetiver planted along the curves and slopes of the land hold water in the soil and keep it from washing away.

Will vetiver keep boosting income in Haiti? It won’t if it isn’t farmed properly. Heeding good farming practices will aid Haiti’s farmers. God Himself has shown us what to do.

You water [Earth’s] furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing it with growth. — Psalm 65:10.